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Civilizations
Civilizations
by Felipe Fernandez-Armesto
Edition: Paperback

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Refreshingly Overwhelming., 1 Dec 2003
This review is from: Civilizations (Paperback)
Around the world and through the ages, "Civilizations" takes the reader on a journey of discovery. Exotic lands, inhospitable climates and tantalising glimpses of forgotten cultures are all here.
The author has taken the approach of classifying civilisations not by their technological prowess or social structure, but by the geography in which they sustain themselves. Thus, chapters cover icy wastes, grassland, jungle, desert, etc,.
I was tempted to read this book by the promise of historical anecdotes and a wider coverage of human civilisation than most authors offer. Although Egypt, Greece and China have their place in this book, the reader is also allowed to stay for a while among the Mongol horde, voyage with the pioneering navigators of Polynesia and shiver in the mountains of Tibet.
Emphasis is placed on tradelinks and resources, but the author is quite happy to allow the figures of history to emerge from the landscape and make their presence known. There are quotes and extracts, as well as observations about the reasons for these expressions.
The prose is quite dry in places, yet in others it is as if you have the whole scene made real in front of you. When I read of the horrendous conditions of Frederik Hendrik Island, and the curious way in which its inhabitants survived there, I could feel my skin crawl and my boots fill with ooze, even as I sat on the bus into work.
Considering the great number of pages and the detail on each of them, I decided even before opening the book that it would be best read by selecting the most enigmatic culture and working my way down to the most familiar. I dip in, read some fascinating passage or enthralling chapter, and wait another day to read the next.
Suffice to say, I haven't finished the book yet, but this is definitely a companion for life - If only for the sheer variety of cultures on offer. I didn't fully appreciate until now how diverse civilisation could be. Not just that such and such a thing might be possible, but that it had already happened and happened sucessfully - Despite close-minded historians and paranoid nations belittling the achievements of lands they could claim no cultural connection with. For this, we need look no further than Great Zimbabwe or the nation of Meroe to see that mighty civilisations have been denied their rightful place in world history simply because archaeologists of the West refused to acknowledge that black Africans might build empires to rival those of Egypt or Rome.
This book can open up a whole new world. What's surprising is that it's the world we already live in.


Beginner's Assyrian (Hippocrene Beginner's Series)
Beginner's Assyrian (Hippocrene Beginner's Series)
by D.G. Lyon
Edition: Paperback
Price: 9.51

15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Information Overload., 1 Dec 2003
Although entitled "Beginner's Assyrian", I think it's worth noting that an assumption has been made by the author that the reader will certainly not be a beginner to the study of linguistics. The pages are heavy with esoteric terms, while important reference tables, such as the index of ideograms and the glossary, are unhelpfully arranged according to cuneiform or Hebrew script and not the English alphabet. One gains the impression that the author is actively trying to frustrate the whole process of learning.
By simply flicking through the pages, some concerns are immediately aroused - The cuneiform tables, as well as the accompanying translations, are not printed, but hand-written. This makes determining words in both languages an irritating chore, especially since, as a 'beginner', a foreign word has an equal chance of being interpreted as "Niraru", "Misasu", or even "Minanu". As this appears to be a reprinted edition, I would have hoped the publisher could have arranged for a neater presentation of Lyon's work.
Another concern is the overall layout of the book. A list of cuneiform ideograms is the first piece of information the reader is given, (after a preface which emphasises the importance of learning the ancient signs, but only *after* their transliterations have been mastered). Following this comes the grammar, then it's straight into masses of transliterated text, there's some pure cuneiform to challenge the memory, along with a block of notes and finally comes the glossary with its Hebrew script (meaning that most of the words beginning with vowels are listed under Aleph).
When it actually comes to attempting to learn Assyrian, the instructions on grammar are near-impenetrable in places. Important points are mentioned in a most casual fashion, while seemingly irrelevant topics (such as how many terms "second aorist" may fall under) receive more attention than appears necessary (ie, that it is mentioned at all).
Being unwilling to accommodate the complexities of grammar on the best of days, I was naturally drawn past all this unpleasantness to the actual Assyrian texts - Yet here I was to be disappointed anew. Personally, I don't mind that there are no small passages to enable one to 'get used to' the language, but what I can't fathom is why the Assyrian is separate from both the English translation and the notes which are supposed to accompany it.
I started my reading in the middle of the collection with Chapter X's "Assurbanipal: The First Egyptian Campaign", since the Assyrian was set on the left hand page and, fortune of fortunes, the English was on the right. Looking back to the preface, I find that, yes indeed, the Egyptian Campaign is suggested as the place to begin study, before reading the pages which precede it and then those which follow. The rest of the text has no such paragraph-by-paragraph comparison check and I don't see why that should be. It's not as if the student would gain anything by 'cheating'.
Anyone who wishes to learn Assyrian from this particular book should ideally have at least one Semitic language already under their belt. Although progress can be made from "Beginner's Assyrian / Assyrian Manual", it's rough going. The author may have been hopeful that self-study students (the target readership) would be inspired to greater exploration of the culture and language of the Assyrians, but the book itself seems to sap whatever enthusiasm the reader had to begin with.
Although the study of Egyptian hieroglyphics might have more books devoted to it than cuneiform, there is no reason why this exotic and evocative script can't have an equally decent selection of (inexpensive) learning tools on offer. I'll be looking elsewhere for my first study guide, but keeping this one around for reference.


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